LMS RML Sunday Review

 RML AD Group pleased with fourth in Le Mans Series opener - Round 1. Catalunya 1000 Kilometres. April 5th-6th 2008

Warm-up

It was a good start to the day for RML, with Tommy confirming that the MG was nearer to form by setting a time that was marginally quicker than he’d managed in qualifying, despite a race set-up and full tanks. It did end in a slightly unusual manner, by RML standards, with Mike taking an enforced tumble into the gravel, and then having to abandon the habitual driver-change simulation in favour of clearing the undertray of gravel – but more on that later.

The day began under a thin overcast of cloud and a slight chill adding bite to the air. After the warmth of yesterday, and the anticipated heat of midday today, it was refreshingly welcome, although such thoughts seem slightly unfair in the light of four inches of snow blanketing the UK.

Tommy was among the first group to head out onto the track, and was soon into a rhythm that demonstrated the finer fettle of the MG. From a 1:45.656, he steadily trimmed away the loose edges, and ended up clocking a very respectable 1:38.469 – comfortably quicker than he’d gone in qualifying, and an “easy lap” he reported later.

That done, the call came over the radio to “Pit this lap please Tommy,” from Phil Barker, to which came the clipped response of “In this lap, in this lap,” from the driver. The team carried out the first of what were planned as two simulated driver changes, and Mike headed out with the MG fourth quickest in P2, behind the #34 and #27 Porsches and #33 Speedy Sebah Lola.

Mike’s first lap was a 1:44.063, and he followed this with a 1:43.016 – his fastest lap of the weekend so far. On track, Mike was chasing Fredy Lienhard in the #27 Horag Porsche RS Spyder, and had been steadily catching him for two or three laps. Finally he came up on the Porsche’s tail, and they swept through turns one-two-and three smoothly, with the MG steadily drawing closer still.

Heading down into Turn 4, Lienhard suddenly pulled up. “He braked very early, and very hard,” said Mike, shrugging his shoulders in anticipation of what came next. “It caught me out, and I stamped on the brakes. I’d have been into the back of him had I not.” The rear end of the MG snapped away violently, and pitched Mike backwards into the gravel trap. He completed a full 360 and then sat there for a few moments, gathering his thoughts, before confirming that the engine would restart OK. Dragged out backwards by the recovery crew, he blipped the XP-21 into life, and headed cross-country for the tarmac. It was a lengthy trek to the exit of Turn 5, where he was finally able to rejoin the track.

“A bit of gravel to clear up when he gets back,” suggests Phil over the radio. “Shake as much of that gravel out of it as you can, Mike,” he added.

Weaving his way through 6 and 7, Mike made his way leisurely back to the pitlane, loosening as much of the car’s new collection of gravel before he arrived. The session was over by now, and it was a slightly sheepish Mike Newton that clambered out of the car, the planned driver change practice abandoned.

With a quick time in the bag, and both drivers showing improved pace, it was a jovial Phil Barker who welcomed his drivers back for a quick de-brief ahead of the official Autograph Session. “Mike thought he was here for a holiday!” joked Phil Barker. “He headed off for the beach!”

Tommy was pleased to have found better pace from the MG, and improved on his qualifying pace. “That wasn’t difficult,” he grinned. As for the race? “There are a lot of people out there with good pace, and we will just try to do what we always do best – have a clean race and hope our experience pays dividends."

Top LMP2 Times - Warm Up

Pos No. Overall Team Driver Car Time 1 34 5 Van Merksteijn M/s Van Mekrksteijn/Verstappen  Porsche RS Spyder 1:35.907 2 27 8 Horag Racing  Lienhard/Theys/Lammers Porsche RS Spyder 1:37.266 3 33 9 Speedy Sebah Belicchi/Pompidou/Zacchia Lola Bo8/80 Coupé 1:37.703 4 31 11 Team Essex  Nielsen/Elgaard Porsche RS Spyder 1:38.328 5 25 12 RML AD Group Erdos/Newton MG Lola EX264 1:38.469 6 32 13 Barazi Epsilon  Barazi/Vergers Zytek 07S  1:39.265 7 35 17 Saulnier Racing  Ragues/Lahaye Pescarolo Judd  1:41.093 8 26 19 Bruichladdich Rostan/Petersen/Lueders Radical SR9 AER 1:41.110 9 45 21 Embassy Racing  Hughes/Haberfield WF01 Zytek  1:41.579 10 40 22 Quifel ASM Amaral/Pla Lola B05/40 AER 1:41.656 11 46 23 Embassy Racing  Kane/Foster WF01 Zytek  1:41.656 12 41 24 Trading Performance  Ojeh/Gosselin/Schroyen Zytek 07S  1:42.812 13 44 25 Kruse Schiller  de Pourtales/Noda  Lola B05/40  1:42.906 14 30 27 Racing Box  Didaio/Francioni/Savoldi Lucchini Judd  1:45.062 15 37 34 WR Salini  Salini/Salini/Roussel WR Zytek  1:51.218

The Race

Race Start Hour 2 Hour 3 Hour 4 Hour 5 Hour 6-Finish

Race coverage is created "live" starting from approximately one-hour into the event, and then driver quotes and additional observations are added later. This can lead to some inconsistency with tenses, for which we apologise.

Race Start

Weather conditions had warmed up considerably during the course of the morning, and a hot, dry and bright afternoon was in prospect. From the shade of the pit straight, where the massive grandstand dominates the surrounding countryside, the cars streamed off round the circuit for the parade lap. The Audi pace car, lights flashing, lead the way, taking about three minutes to complete the four-and-a-half kilometre circuit. Peeling away into the pitlane, the leaders were released, and the echo of thousands of horsepower reverberated through the packed grandstand. Yes, possibly for the first time in the series history, a good crowd has turned out today to watch 48 of the world's finest sportscars in action.

It was a remarkably clean start, all the way through the field. Widespread concern, voiced before the race, that having such a huge and evenly-matched grid hurtling down a long straight and into a series of tight turns was a recipe for mayhem, but it never materialised., A few puffs of tyre smoke here and there betrayed some unsteady nerves, but on the whole sanity prevailed, and everyone got through the first lap unscathed. Perhaps they were saving up their lapses for later. "The configuration on the final chicane means that the leaders were already racing by the time we get to the second element," was Tommy's explanation. "Everyone was very spread out on the run down to that first corner, and that lead to an uneventful first lap, for everyone, including me."

Tommy found himself almost isolated as he headed down towards Turn One. "I put my foot to the floor, and nothing happened!" Well, that's not strictly true, but compared to the kind of acceleration he'd grown accustomed to last season, the reaction from behind his left shoulder seemed distinctly feeble. "I made up no places at all. By the time I came down the main straight, everyone else had gone and left me. It made my progress through the first few corners very easy, but equally, very strange." More used to being able to claim a few extra positions, Tommy found himself just trying to keep ahead of the cars behind him. "The start is a drag race, to all intents and purposes. We're just not very strong in that department."

Tommy's first challenge was to get by the Kruze Lola Mazda #44, and he managed that just three laps into the race. His next target was Warren Hughes in the #45 Embassy WF01 Zytek. It took him about ten minutes, but he steadily narrowed the gap on the black car. Amazingly, within that time, the leaders have already caught and started lapping the tail-enders.

11:48Tommy closed right up on the tail of the #45 Embassy Zytek coming through Turns 1 and 2 when one of the GT2 Ferrari 430's wandered across in front of Warren. That allowing Tommy to close right down on his former team-mate, only to find himself baulked in the same way a few turns later. A little further back, the Larbre Saleen, which started from the back of the grid after an engine swap, was scything through the GT field and would be in contention before much longer.

11:48There's a great scrap for the overall lead. The "blue" Peugeot, #8 with Pedro Lamy driving, had the early running, but the second "red" car, and Allan McNish in the #1 Audi, have been trading second place on a regular basis. The Lola Aston Martin continues to be the most impressive of the petrol-engined cars, and holds fourth, although Mucke had been up as high as third earlier. The revised liveries for the two 908s makes distinguishing between the pair far easier now.

11:50The positions in LMP2 are: The #34 Porsche leads the pack, followed by the #31, with the #33 Speedy Sebah closed Lola an impressive third. Verstappen in the Dutch team's leading Porsche had pulled out into a distinct lead right from the start, but Elgaard began to reel him back in after a few laps. The #27 Horag Porsche holds fourth, with the #32 Barazi Zytek fifth and the #40 ASM Lola sixth. Warren Hughes in the first of the Embassy Zyteks is seventh, followed closely by Tommy in the #25 MG Lola. Behind him comes the #44 Kruse Lola (although starting to encounter the cooling problems that would ultimately lead to a series of enforced pitstops) then the second Embassy car, the Saulnier LMP2 Pescarolo #35, and finally (in terms of meaningful positions) the #26 Bruichladdich Radical.

11:55Tommy passes Warren for seventh in class. "Warren is a good friend, and a good driver. It was huge satisfying to get ahead of him. I just went round him on the outside of Turn 1. I was pleased with that!" said Erdos later.

11:58Tommy is now also closing on the #40 ASM Lola, and the margin is just 4.6 seconds.

12:00The gap is down to three seconds.

12:11Tommy is about to be lapped by the leading Peugeot, #8. He has seven more laps to his first pitstop.

12:14Passing a GT2 Ferrari, the car cuts in across Tommy's rear, and clips the side of the MG. "It was just a light touch," he insisted later, but he still requested a check-up for damage at the next pitstop. Meanwhile, Bob Berridge manages to get ahead in the LMP1 Chamberlain Synergy Lola.

12:20Warren gets back in front of Tommy, demoting the MG to 8th in LMP2. "I got mugged!" said Erdos later. "On the straights, Warren's car was maybe 20 mph faster than me. I could beat him round the corners and under braking, but as soon as we got onto the straights, he was able to get ahead again. There's just too much of a deficit in the car's performance for us to be able to make up so much ground on mechanical grip alone."

12:25The #27 Horag Porsche (left) experiences a massive blow-out down the main straight, rubber shredding away from the canvas and decimating the front-right body panels. “I pulled out to go by a GT car," said Didier. "There were a lot of marbles and perhaps a piece of carbon fibre amongst it. It was a very big blow out.” Debris was distributed widely across the track. Simultaneously, the Bruichladdich Radical encountered the first of what would be a regular series of spins for the re-liveried car, now largely black and no longer the distinctive orange of 2007. Suspecting an impending Safety Car period, Tommy heads for the pitlane.

Safety Car - 12:27

Hour 2

Tommy managed to get out on track after a swift pitstop, during which the car was checked for damage, immediately behind the safety car. He confirms that there is still a lot of debris on the track. He's also a little concerned by the driving of the #34 Porsche, which is immediately behind him on track, and seemingly intent on ramming the rear of the MG! Thankfully, Tommy is soon waved by, and manages to lose the Porsche in the process.

On the hour, Tommy is seventh in class, 19th overall.

Racing Resumes - 12:38

Much to the Brazilian's frustration - it's been that kind of day - he is stuck behind a GT2 Porsche on the restart but cannot overtake until they cross the start-finish line. Even so, he has made up a place during the period, and now the MG is running in P7 within the class.

12:52Next target is the #35 Saulnier Racing LMP2 Pescarolo. The team is running two Pescas this weekend, one in each of the two prototype categories. The LMP2 car is running much the better of the two!

12:55Tommy suspects another Safety Car period may be in the offing, after another major off, and the team prepares for an early pitstop. In the end, the marshals clear the situation under yellow flags.

Dramas for Joey Foster in the #46 Embassy WF01, when he was pitched off into the gravel by a sudden steering failure. He retired the car there and then. The second car, Warren Hughes' #45, was immediately called into the garage by Jonathan' France's team, and investigated for the possibility of any similar problems. If a design fault is suspected, then Warren's race will also be over.

1:06Finally, Tommy is able to close down on the #35, but it's never easy going. The combination of heavy traffic, both slower and faster than the MG, and the generally poor top speed he's enduring down the straights, is making any overtaking doubly difficult.

Two stop-go penalties for Verstappen in the #34 Porsche, totalling some 30 seconds plus drive-through time. He is believed to have carried out some indiscretion or other under yellow flags. Caspar Elagaard's lead in the #31 Team Essex Porsche is starting to look more meaningful, although a first driver change to John Nielsen comes earlier than their rivals, and the gap narrows.

1:19Nearly two hours completed, and at 1:19 Tommy comes back down the pitlane to complete his second stint. It's a characteristically rapid pitstop, with the RML guys moving swiftly to station, completing the refuel, and then setting-to on the tyre change. With Mike strapped in, he made a couple of clunks in the gearbox, found the one he wanted, and away he went, back out on track and into sixth place in LMP2.

A very frustrated Tommy Erdos reported briefly to the pitwall before heading back into the team truck and a chance to freshen up. "It just seems so very, very slow at the moment," he said. Literally, we're being overtaken by GT2 cars down the straights, and I have to lunge into the corners to get anywhere. We seem to be losing more and more power the further we get into the race, and it makes it so frustrating, it's unbelievable." The problem was evident right from the start, but despite being able to catch most cars into the corners there's simply no power to make those moves stick. "It's a losing battle," he shrugged.

Hour 3

On the hour, the official results list the MG as 14th overall, 6th in class, with Tommy still at the wheel.

1:42Mike holding 13th position overall, fifth in LMP2 and lapping in the low 1:44s.

1:47The MG is circulating steadily, and not exactly losing ground. Still holds P5 (position 5) in LMP2, some fifteen seconds behind the #35 Saulnier Pescarolo, but a lap clear of the Horag Porsche in sixth (15th overall) which is still playing catch-up after the earlier incident. Mike's last lap was three seconds slower than Ragues in the #35 car, but the situation occasionally reverses.

2:00Mike has been complaining of vibrations from the tyres, but it's soon established that the culprit is pick-up of loose rubber from the track. This distance into the race it's often a problem, and it can only get worse.

2:09Mike into the pit lane for his first pitstop. The MG came in from fifth in LMP2, still 13th overall. Smooth and unruffled, the team complete the refuel and confirm that the tyres are fine for another stint. Mike's heads back out, less than two minutes since he left the track.

2:15Mike is a comfortable three laps clear of the Horag Porsche, which is making a scheduled visit to the the pits, and still holds 13th overall, fifth in class. The #35 Saulnier Pescarolo has eased away a little, while the class leader is currently the Team Essex Porsche, "Big" John Nielsen at the wheel. The former leader, car #34, has dropped to 8t overall, second in LMP2, and the #33 Speedy Sebah Lola is third (10th overall). Elsewhere in the class, both Embassy Zyteks have had problems.The #46 was withdrawn after encountering a serious steering failure, and with such a significant safety risk possibly being aligned to a design fault, the team wisely elected to withdrawn the second car. That brought Warren Hughes' impressive early charge to a faltering halt, and the #45 car remains in the garage.

The Safety Car is listed as 48th overall,with a fastest lap of 2:47.547, and is only four laps down on the #94 Spyker. If we have any further incidents, there's a chance it can make up a few places.

More seriously, for a moment, the outright leader is the #7 Peugeot, a lap clear of Mike Rockenfeller in the #2 Audi. The Charouz Lola Aston Martin continues to show excellent form, and leads the petrol-pack from third overall, a further lap behind. Mike is in danger of catching the #1 Audi.

2:30Bringing the third hour to a close, Mike has maintained a steady trouble-free pace throughout the second element of his first stint. His times are hardly scintillating, but it's not his fault. Even on the television monitors, the MG is visibly slow, and clearly has trouble keeping pace with the GT cars down the straights. Through the twistier sections, its another story, and the car's inherent strength, it's mechanical grip and handling, have allowed Mike to lap consistently in the mid-forties. I's respectable pedaling, and he is fulfilling his role admirably. He took over the car in fifth place, and that's where it still stands, 13th overall.

Hour 4

On the hour, and RML's MG is shown as 13th overall, fifth in class.

2:53Van Merksteijn takes a spin in the #34 Porsche from second in LMP2, but recovers, although is not maintaining the car's earlier pace. Simultaneously, John Nielsen in the leading #31 Tea Essex Porsche is shown what the Americans call a "meatball" - the black flag with orange circle that denotes a mechanical problem that, if not rectified swiftly, will lead to disqualification. On the next lap he pits.

2:56The LMP2 leader is hauled backwards into the garage to have the left rear panel replaced.

2:57Both leading LMP2 Porsches are in the pits. Mike warns the team over the radio that his fuel light is now flickering. The next scheduled pitstop is due, and Tommy is getting ready for his next stint.

2:58Change in the lead for LMP2. The Team Essex Porsche #31, which is still in the garage undergoing repairs, is overtaken by the Van Merksteijn Porsche #34. If the Essex Porsche stays there much longer it is in danger of losing second to the #33 Speedy Sebah Lola.

3:00The Speedy Sebah Lola #33 moves into second, 8th overall. It is promptly clouted, albeit gently, by the #95 Porsche as it starts its 116th lap.

3:02Mike into the pitlane. Team Essex Porsche rejoins. Tommy into the car, and the team complete another exemplary pitstop. "Great job everybody," says a grateful Erdos. "Well done, well done," as he powers away towards the racetrack. He's back in the race, and less tan a lap behind Nielsen in the Team Essex Porsche, but the pitstop has seen the MG slip down one position overall. It now stands in 14th, although still holding fifth in LMP2.

3:12Tommy is 39 seconds behind Nielsen in LMP2, but only 16 seconds adrift of the #4 Saulnier Pescarolo for thirteenth overall.

3:18Tommy closes to within 10 seconds of Faggionato in the Saulnier Pescarolo. Out at the front of LMP2, temporary troubles of varying magnitudes for both the leading Porsches, numbers 31 and 34, have allowed the #33 Speedy Sebah Lola to gain ground, and with the #34 well down the order, a pitstop for the #31 now gives the Lola the class lead.

3:22The #8 Peugeot has a major "off" at Turn 4 after contact with a GT2 Porsche, and is into the gravel. It is already well down the order and running 16th, while the sister car, #7, leads the race by just under a lap from the #2 Audi. The stricken Pug is being hauled unceremoniously out of the kitty litter by the recover crew. It's not a pretty sight.

3:24Tommy begins his 125th lap, just four seconds now behind the LMP1 Saulnier Courage. The #8 Peugeot regains the track, but has now been passed by the leading GT1 car; the #72 Corvette. Two minutes later and the #5 Oreca Courage is being introduced to the tyre wall at Turn 3.

3:27Just 1.5 seconds between Tommy and the tail-end of the Saulnier car. It's not for class, but it is for overall position. The #73 Luc Alphand Corvette - not the leader, but the second car - enters the pitlane with flailing rubber and much bodywork damage. Tommy comments on the amount of debris generally around the track.

3:31#40 ASM Lola beached on the kerbs at Turn 12. Currently out of contention in LMP2, 33rd overall. The condition of the track is starting to cause problems, as cars lose grip on the "marbles" and encounter debris from earlier incidents.

Hour 5

On the hour, the official time sheets published by the race organisers show Tommy running 14th overall, fifth in LMP2, having completed 131 laps.

3:35A very close call for Tommy as he finally closes down on the #4 Saulnier Pescarolo, only for it to go off in a huge cloud of tyre smoke at Turn 3. The MG was close behind at the time, although there's no suggestion that the two made contact. The net result is 13th place overall for the RML MG Lola, and confirmation that Tommy is some 43 seconds adrift of Nielsen in the #31 Porsche.

Positions in LMP2 are: #33 Speedy Sebah Lola leads the class by three seconds from the #34 Porsche, now with Verstappen at the wheel. They are 6th and 7th overall respectively. Third in class is the #35 Saulnier Pescarolo, 11th overall, but with Nielsen just four seconds in arrears, chasing down in the Team Essex Porsche. Tommy occupies fifth in class, five laps clear of Jan Lammers in the recovering #27 Horag Porsche .

3:42The Speedy Sebah Lola pits from the lead, and Verstappen moves through to take the position. Tinseau in the #17 LMP1 Pescarolo also moves ahead of the #33 Lola to take 6th overall. Then McNish (#1 Audi) moves through to. The Lola rejoins in 8th, but still second in LMP2.

3:51Tommy instructed to "pit this lap". He acknowledges, and advises that he is low on fuel. With a generous lead over the next car in class, he requests fresh tyres for the up-coming pitstop.

3:55Tommy into the pitlane. Fuel and fresh tyres. He's quickly back out again, with no places lost. Showing now as 12th overall, after a lengthier pitstop for the #6 Team Oreca Courage. Tommy is two laps behind the #35 Saulnier Pescarolo, which has been passed for third by Nielsen in the Team Essex Porsche.

4:05#27 Horag Porsche into the pits for a scheduled stop, easing some of the pressure on Tommy, although his lead was comfortable. Less comfortable must be the Saulnier team, with Nielsen's charge in the #31 Porsche RS Spyder eating out huge chunks of the #35 car's advantage in third.

Race is confirmed as 215 laps in total, to reach the 1000 kilometres, so some debate as to whether it will run the distance, or the full six hours. The leader is currently on lap 161.

4:21Tommy eases through into fourth place in LMP2. The reason for the #35 car's sudden fall from third is not immediately clear, although it had been losing ground to Nielsen in the #31 Porsche for some time. Having had a lap's lead over the MG, it is now 5.7 seconds in arrears.

4:29Tommy now plus seven on the #35 Pescarolo, but traffic is see-sawing the relative speeds, so it's harder to tell who is truly the faster of the two. Tommy extends the advantage to 10 seconds on the next lap.

Hour 6

Hourly timesheet states: RML #25 11th overall, 4th in LMP2.

4:36Tommy reports that the fuel light is flickering again - the stints go by a little quicker this year, with the reduction in fuel tanks within LMP2. Last year the regulations stated 90 litres. This year, in an attempt to increase the differential between LMP1 and LMP2, the capacity has been reduced to 80 litres. Last year the MG could run for almost an hour on a full tank. This year it is noticeably less, and had lead to a complete change in strategy for the LMP2 teams.

When an LMP2 car could run for almost an hour on a full tank, the six-hour format split neatly into a five-stop strategy. Now that the same cars can only run for about forty-five minutes, at least six stops are needed, and possibly more. "Two of Mike’s stints are now only about an hour and a half, so it’s more of a struggle trying to prevent Tommy running longer than the maximum four hours he’s permitted in any one race," pointed out Adam Wiseberg."Before the start we expected the race to run for about five hours forty," he added. "Half way through we realised that the pace the leaders were setting would mean that we’d be more likely to run the full six hours, and that meant we had to re-think our strategy. The earlier Safety Car hadn't helped either, giving Tommy extra time in the car (using less fuel at slower speeds) but without the benefit of his pace. The team was now having to consider an extra stint for Mike Newton to finish off the race.

4:38Pit stop for the second-placed Speedy Sebah Lola. Current situation in LMP2 is: Verstappen leading in the #34. The rapid Xavier Pompidou second in the Sebah Lola. Third is yesterday's Birthday Boy, Caspar Elgaard in the #31 Team Essex Porsche. Tommy is fourth, one lap down on the Danish Spyder, 11th overall. He is currently trying to find his way through a gaggle of GT cars, including the third-placed #55 Lamborghini.

4:42Tommy heading in for a fuel-only pitstop. The tanks are running very low, so Phil advises him to switch on the secondary pumps. He enters the pitlane.

4:43The #35 Saulnier Pescarolo regains the position. Tommy rejoins in 12th overall once again, but now fifth in LMP2, and half-a-minute behind.

For the next quarter hour or so, the gap remains static at roughly 35 seconds. Then it's time for Tommy's final pitstop - he has nearly completed his maximum permitted four hours in the car, so must swap with Mike.

5:10Tommy into the pitlane for the anticipated additional driver change and a quick splash of fuel. "The set routine in the last few years has obviously had to change with the adjustment of tank capacity," pointed out Mike Newton. "It makes it very interesting now. You can’t just pop off to the loo without checking when you’re next due in the car!" Mike had also had to forgo his usual post-stint glass of red wine and slice of chocolate cake, knowing that he’d have to be back into the car again to complete this final 20 minutes.

The driver change was swiftly completed. The final gap when Tommy came in was 31 seconds. Mike departs at 5:12, but the Saulnier Pescarolo is also in the pits. "Barring any disasters, this is it for the flag, OK!" says Phil Barker.

5:14Mike heads through to take the place. The MG is now 11th overall, and fourth in LMP2.

Top Ten positions: Peugeot leads by almost a lap from the #2 Audi. The Charouz Lola Aston Martin is third, with the first of the works Pescarolos, #16, fourth. The second Audi #1 has recovered to fifth, Capello now driving, while he #17 Pescarolo is sixth. The leading LMP2 car; the #34 Van Merksteijn car, is seventh, a lap ahead of Pompidou in the Speedy Sebah Lola. That has three laps over Elgaard in the Team Essex Porsche, third. Joao Barbosa rounds off the top ten for Rollcentre with their LMP1 Pescarolo, roughly two laps ahead of Mike.

5:28Just ten minutes or so to go, and Mike holds on to fourth from a charging Jan Lammers. Mike later admitted to having driven very carefully during his last stint to avoid any debris on the track. Having seen others suffer, he wanted to be sure that the MG didn’t collect a puncture in the final stages of the race. Jan Lammers had not been so lucky in the #27 Horag Porsche and had needed to make an extra stop for a replacement tyre that probably cost him a podium.

The MG has roughly a lap in hand, but Lammers is typically lapping a few seconds quicker than the MG. Pompidou makes his final pitstop in the Speedy Sebah Lola.

The organisers are claiming a crowd of 28,000 has attended this opening round of the Le Mans Series here in Spain.

Five minutes remaining, and the leader is nearly on the distance! It could go either way.

5:38 CHEQUERED FLAGThe leader takes the chequered flag on 215 laps. Amazingly, it is also almost exactly on six hours. "Well done everyone!" says Mike from the cockpit. "Excellent Mike, thankyou," replies Phil. "On Schedule, and really well done."

Victory overall for the #7 Peugeot 908, followed closely by the #2 Audi R10, and a debut podium for the all-new Lola Aston Martin. The last time a Lola stood third overall was . . . last season when the RML MG took third at Spa!

A maiden European victory for the #34 Porsche RS Spyder, but not perhaps the dominant run some had predicted. Second place to the very stylish new Speedy Sebah Lola Coupé, and third to the #31 Team Essex Porsche. RML will be happy with fourth, under the circumstances, and having achieved such a commendable result with a car that was so significantly down on power must come as a confidence-boost so early in the season. Once the new XP-21 engine is sorted, and can take full advantage of the revised fuel formulation, then the prospects for the rest of the year start to look much better.

LMP2 Result

Pos No. O/all Team Driver Car Laps Best Lap 1 34 6 Van Merksteijn M/s Van Mekrksteijn/Verstappen  Porsche RS Spyder 208 1:37.093 2 33 8 Speedy Sebah Belicchi/Pompidou/Zacchia Lola Bo8/80 Coupé 207 1:37.093 3 31 9 Team Essex  Nielsen/Elgaard Porsche RS Spyder 204 1:37.750 4 25 11 RML AD Group Erdos/Newton MG Lola EX264 201 1:39.344 5 35 13 Saulnier Racing  Ragues/Lahaye Pescarolo Judd  199 1:40.031 6 27 14 Horag Racing  Lienhard/Theys/Lammers Porsche RS Spyder 198 1:36.594 7 26 15 Bruichladdich Rostan/Petersen/Lueders Radical SR9 AER 194 1:41.859 8 41 17 Trading Performance  Ojeh/Gosselin/Schroyen Zytek 07S  193 1:40.578 9 40 20 Quifel ASM Amaral/Pla Lola B05/40 AER 190 1:38.172 10 37 34 WR Salini  Salini/Salini/Roussel WR Zytek  154 1:46.531       Not classified         11 30 N/c Racing Box  Didaio/Francioni/Savoldi Lucchini Judd  142 1:45.532 12 44 DNF Kruse Schiller  de Pourtales/Noda  Lola B05/40  94 1:39.750 13 32 DNF Barazi Epsilon  Barazi/Vergers Zytek 07S  55 1:39.296 14 45 DNF Embassy Racing  Hughes/Haberfield WF01 Zytek  43 1:40.031 15 46 DNF Embassy Racing  Kane/Foster WF01 Zytek  41 1:40.312